EVERYTHING IS POLITICS BUT POLITICS IS NOT EVERYTHING, A Theological Perspective on Faith and Politics, by H.M. Kuitert (translated by John Bowden); Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986; 183 pp., $8.95 (paper). (Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko)
This is a very strange book. It is strange, first of all, because it just does not seem right for a book on politics to emerge from the pen of a systematic theologian—Prof. Kuitert is professor of Systematic Theology at the Free University of Amsterdam; although this may simply be indicative of the theological trends in the Gereformeerde Kerken. It is a strange book, in the second place, because Kuitert is, according to his own testimony, backing off a previously held position and now advocating that the church does wrong when she becomes involved in politics.
It must be clearly understood that Kuitert means by this, not a denunciation of individual Christians getting involved in politics, but the church as church, i.e., as institute. It must also be understood that by politics he means not only involvement in the political processes of a nation, but he means participation in seeking peace on earth, aiding the hungry and poor, fighting alongside those who seek deliverance from economic and political oppression, etc. In these things the church ought not to involve herself; this is a realm only for the individual Christian.
One could, at least in some respects, hail this change of mind on Kuitert’s part, especially because he pleads for the church to limit herself, to her calling to preach the gospel of peace and reconciliation. His defense of this position is convincing and sometimes even eloquent.
The difficulty is that Kuitert takes this position for the wrong reasons and on the wrong basis. We cannot go into the whole matter in this book review, but a few points ought to be made. The real basis for his position lies in what he calls his two-kingdom theory. The church has to do with the kingdom of heaven; but this world is also a kingdom. In that latter kingdom is to be found an abundant measure of the grace of God, even to the extent that salvation is found in this latter kingdom—although such salvation is “well-being.” It is in this kingdom in the world that the individual Christian works for salvation, cooperates with the world in its endeavors, and does all he can to secure the salvation of “well-being.”
Furthermore, when he gets around to talking about the business of the church, i.e., the kingdom of heaven, he is extremely vague and dissatisfying. If you would ask me what Kuitert’s view of the kingdom ‘of heaven is, I would have to respond: I simply do not know. Sometimes he seems to be speaking of a second coming of Christ and the establishment of that kingdom when a new order is introduced. Other times he seems to think also of the kingdom of heaven in some kind of earthly terms. There are even points at which he seems to shrug his shoulders as if to say that he has no idea of what the kingdom of heaven is all about. And this latter may be closest to the truth, because he gives far greater priority to laboring in the kingdom of this world than “seeking the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness.” By this means the church is almost shoved into a dark and useless corner—although Kuitert is at some pains to disavow his intent to rob the church of her significance. But reading the book, this is really the only conclusion one can come to. All of this leaves no room for the true antithesis and the calling of God’s people as citizens here and now of the kingdom of heaven, while walking as pilgrims and strangers in the earth.
There are other things in the book which are bad. For example, here and there his obvious denial of Scripture’s divine origin comes through loud and clear. He will even make an exception to his general principle, that the church ought not to involve itself in politics, in the case of an emergency—as is now true in South Africa. And it is a bit silly and hardly worthy of a theologian to make an obvious bow to the feminist movement by speaking repeatedly of “the sisterhood of mankind.” (It seems to me that “sisterhood” is as discriminatory and sexist as “brotherhood” and that Kuitert, in the interests of being fair, ought to speak of “the neuterhood of all mankind.”)
The book is hard going. I would suggest that unless someone is rather thoroughly acquainted with political and economic theory, it would be better to skip the first three sections of the book and start with Section IV. Chapter XIII is the key chapter, although the chapters which follow this one are also more or less important.